An Overdose of Happiness

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“That’s one reason why I think that public policy, and even how we spend our time, should be more devoted to trying to help people who are very unhappy. There’s another reason there actually, which is in the research and has not been pointed out very much. We know a lot more about what makes the difference, what causes the difference between the misery and average happiness. Knowing what causes the difference between average happiness and great happiness, we have it more in our power (as well as it being a duty) to do more about the least happy.”

….Unfortunately this is not the way the government has been thinking up till now. Psychiatry and psychology have been Cinderella sections of the NHS. If you have blood pressure (I have) or a skin problem, or asthma, or diabetes, or whatever, you will almost automatically, at some point, see a specialist. But not if you have a crippling depression which is stopping you from working for a year; you’re extremely unlikely to see a specialist. Not more than 10% of people in that condition will see a specialist, and this reflects I think our obsession at the moment with ‘objective indicators’ rather than the feelings of people, which are what I believe matter most of all. So it’s encouraging that by pointing out some of these facts, there is now a move going on in the government to provide more psychological therapy, which is of course what these patients want, they just don’t want to be put on a few pills by the GP and sent off home."

- Richard Layard, Economist

“Now the intellectuals, who are more happiness pessimists, come up with a different argument. They say maybe why you’re detecting all this happiness out there, is because when you ask people how happy they are, when they respond, they’re not really thinking very clearly or sensibly about their answer. They’re not giving you really a very profound answer, and there’s a clue that that might be right from another interesting study done recently by a psychologist. They engineer a situation where people have to go and make some photocopies from a photocopying machine. Unbeknownst to these people, they don’t know the experimenter has engineered it, but they will discover a 10-cent dime on the photocopying machine, an ‘unexpected’ discovery. So one group find the 10-cent dime, the other group who are photocopying don’t find anything. Then they’re interviewed shortly afterwards about how happy they are. But the happiness question doesn’t ask them how happy you are right now, it asks them ‘Tell us how you evaluate how happy your whole life has been.’ In other words, they ask people to evaluate happiness over their whole lifetime.

The amazing result is the discovery of a 10-cent dime piece on a photocopying machine statistically significantly raises your assessment of how happy your whole life has been. The implications are dramatic for government policy. It suggests the cheapest and most effect public policy measures imaginable.

-Raj Persaud, Psychiatrist


I’m a little bit confused here; the psychiatrist seems to be making more sense than the economist. Another little bit from Raj’s talk;

“Harold McMillan, a former British prime minister from several decades ago, was visiting France on a state visit, and happened to find himself with a few private moments with the wife of President Charles de Gaulle, Madame de Gaulle. He asked her what she was most looking forward to on the retirement, the imminent retirement of President Charles de Gaulle.

He was somewhat startled and shocked at her reply. When asked what she was most looking forward to on President de Gaulle’s retirement, she said, ‘A penis.’..”

For what actually happened see the rest of the talk.

Related Links;

- The Scientist's Pursuit of Happiness

- Finding Happiness in the Pursuit

- Interview with Layard (mp3) and the Annex to his book on happiness

- Can Money Buy Happiness- Arnold Kling

- Here is a Philosopher talking about Happiness (here is transcript).

- Happiness Research (webcast of a lecture)

- The Libertarian Vision of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness (Cato event webcast)

- A review of the ‘Happiness: A History’ by Darrin M. McMahon

- Chasing the Dream- Economic Focus column from The Economist

- Happiness and Public Policy blog

- Gross National Happiness

- Happy Economists; Richard Layard, Andrew Oswald and Richard A. Easterlin


2 Comments

I propose that they were happier therefore they found the coin; not they found the coin therefore they are happier. Like "I am therefore I think."

I have been feeling very tensed and unhappy due to my personal problems. I was trying to find out some articles or posts which would teach us the definition of happiness. I would like to thank you "Paul" to make me a little bit lighter. Happiness is something which comes from inside. But which state truly defines it is a puzzle for me still.

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This page contains a single entry by Paul published on April 10, 2006 12:52 AM.

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